Ferst Readers Regional Program Coordinator Michelle Maddox accepts a donation from OREMC presented by Nancy White, customer service supervisor.

Giving the “gift of reading” is the motivation behind Okefenoke REMC’s recent $1,000 donation to Ferst Readers to support the establishment of the program in Brantley County. It is one of 90 programs in Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Montana and Texas aimed at promoting early literacy skills and school readiness in children from low-income families.

Giving back to the community is also one of the seven cooperative principles, and OREMC is able to make a donation such as this by using unclaimed capital credits. Qualified organizations must be located in one of the eight counties OREMC serves.

“Having supported and seen the success of the Ferst Readers program in Nassau County,” notes OREMC Member Service Representative Dewayne Johns, “and knowing Ferst was interested in establishing the program in other communities, OREMC was more than willing to help bring the program to Brantley County. Education is the backbone of community development and the foundation of our cooperative principles.”

According to Michelle Maddox, regional program coordinator for Ferst Readers, “Our goal is to get parents to read to their children by providing a developmentally-appropriate book each month from birth to age five. Among low-income families, 61 percent do not have age- appropriate books for children. Ferst works to close that gap by fostering a language-rich environment and promoting kindergarten readiness.”

The program is free to families living in participating communities, and every child under the age of five can be registered. Each month they will receive a Read To Me book selection, along with a parent newsletter that outlines activities, vocabulary and key outcomes related to the book. Since the program’s founding in 1999, children who were Ferst Readers have demonstrated higher kindergarten readiness assessment scores and higher post-test gains among first graders.

While there is no cost to families registered with Ferst Readers, the cost to fund the program per child is $36 a year. The OREMC donation will be used to jumpstart the program in Brantley County by registering the children currently enrolled in Head Start. They are expected to get their first book in December.

For more information about Ferst Readers visit online at www.ferstreaders.org or contact Regional Program Coordinator Michelle Maddox at 904-248-0165.